One of the most important avant-gardes of the early twentieth century is futurism. This avant-garde was created in Italy and was the first European avant-garde. There has also been a Russian futurism and a French futurism, but here we propose to treat the Italian one focusing attention on literature. Futurism, in fact, has been a very important avant-garde in the artistic field, it is enough to remember figures such as Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Carlo Carrà (1881-1966) and Gino Severini (1883-1966 ).
When futurism is born
We can make the birth of futurism coincide with the publication date of the Futurist Manifesto on the “Gazzetta dell’Emilia”: February 5, 1909.
The European context of the early twentieth century is particularly favorable to this type of avant-garde: it is a period of technological discoveries and communications (wireless telegraph, radio, cameras, airplanes, etc.), cars are increasingly widespread, times and costs of production is regulated through assembly lines, significant political and social changes occur.
Italian futurism: members and contents
The theoretical framework of Italian Futurism is explained in the various posters published over the years. Only between 1909 and 1910 were published three concerning literature and art: the already mentioned Futurist Manifesto of 1909, the Manifesto of Futurist Painters and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, both of 1910.
The major exponents of the movement, in this period, are: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), Balla, Boccioni, Carrà, Severini and Luigi Russolo (1888-1947). In the following years other writers and artists joined: Aldo Palazzeschi (1885-1974), Antonio Sant ‘Elia (1888-1916), Mario Sironi (1885-1961), Ardengo Soffici (1879-1964), etc.
Futurism is based on the exaltation of progress and what derives from it: speed, dynamism, industry, technique. From the political point of view it is against the old ideologies and in favor of nationalism and war, the latter, as is known, defined “hygiene of the world”.
Futurism and literature
The Futurist Manifesto of 1909, written by Marinetti, contains some points that concern literature:
- to base poetry on courage and boldness, on the beauty of struggle;
- make a literature that is no longer an exaltation of immobility and sleep, but of aggression;
- enhance the primordial elements.
The last point, number 11, is dedicated to the themes and objects that recur in literature but also in futurist art:
We will sing the large crowds agitated by work, pleasure or revolt: we will sing the multicolored and polyphonic tides of the revolutions in modern capitals; we will sing the vibrant nocturnal fervor of the arsenals and the yards, set on fire by violent electric moons; the greedy stations, devouring snakes that smoke; the workshops hanging from the clouds due to the twisted threads of their fumes; the bridges similar to giant gymnasts who cross the rivers, flashing in the sun with a shimmer of knives; the adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon, and the large-chested locomotives, which stand on the rails, like enormous steel horses harnessed to tubes, and the slipping flight of airplanes, whose propeller warts in the wind like a flag and seems applaud like an enthusiastic crowd.
In 1912, Marinetti published, in the first anthology of Futurist Poets, the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature. Here is a list of rules for the “futurist writer”:
- destroy the syntax and arrange the nouns at random;
- use the verb in infinity;
- abolish the adjective, the adverb, the punctuation and the analogy;
- use the double noun (for example: man-torpedo boat);
- destroy the ego and favor three elements: noise, weight and smell;
- do “bravely the ugly”.
There are two representative novels of futurism: Mafarka the futurist by Marinetti and Il codice di Perelà by Palazzeschi.
Mafarka the futurist was published in 1910. Set in Africa, the protagonist is Mafarka-el-Bar. Mafarka defeats Uncle Bubassa in battle and forcibly takes the city of which he is the legitimate heir, Tell-el-Kibir. Later, in a futurist speech, he tells his faithful that he is not interested in power; he wants to generate a child from his own flesh: an immortal winged giant. Born Gazurmah, Mafarka transfers his soul into him through a kiss and dies. Gazurmah flies towards the sun to dethrone him.
The first edition of Il codice di Perelà came out in 1911. Later the text was revised and republished several times, in 1954 the title changed to L ‘uomo di fumo.
It is an anti-novelist and an allegorical fable.
Perela is a man made of smoke because he lived for thirty-three years in a chimney hood. Arriving in the city, he is housed in the king’s palace and here many show him plans or expound ideas, he answers for monosyllables. The king entrusts Perelà with the task of drawing up a code. A jealous domestic sets himself on fire to become smokers himself, and for this reason Perelà is accused by everyone and sentenced to prison. A lady in love with him makes Perelà in jail have a fireplace. Perelà escapes by the chimney and the lady dies of a broken heart.
Futurism finds a broader and more varied expression in poetry. In addition to Marinetti, Palazzeschi and Soffici, they write futurist poetry Paolo Buzzi (1874-1956), Luciano Folgore (1888-1966), Corrado Govoni (1884-1965) and Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968).
The themes of Futurist poetry are the usual ones mentioned above: speed, the exaltation of war and the future.
The style respects the dictates of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature.